your creative impulse
Your Creative Impulse : Forget what They Say!

The Creative Impulse

Forget What They Say!

You have to be a ___ first.

By Chris Dunmire | Updated 1/28/16

My friend Patrick and I have this inside joke about the They people. You know who They are because they show up all the time as the They say entity:

  • They say you shouldn’t swim for an hour after eating.
  • They say crafting isn’t real artistic expression.
  • They say you’re not a real writer until you’ve been published.
  • They say you’re not a true artist unless you sell something.

What else have you heard They say? More important, have you allowed what They say to dictate your personal creative adventures?

For our amusement, Patrick and I decided that the They people were a small collective of self-appointed experts holed up somewhere in North Dakota.

Now before you interject what They say often has a kernel of truth to it or came from a scientific study or was discovered by a professor at UCLA, I'll concede that in some cases you’re probably right. But the idea here is to get you to think about — and even question — commonly held ideas and opinions about what is real and true before allowing others to dictate your rightful place in the world of creative expression.

Let's take the example of not being a real writer until you’ve been published. What does that even mean in today’s social media, NaNoWriMo, self-publishing, blogs-turn-into-books digital world?

“Oh, you’re a writer, what have you published?” is the question often asked because the expectation is so pervasive and infers that its two things instead of one.

But being a writer has nothing to do with being published or making money off of what you create. That's not to say that being published isn't an anticipated or worthy goal, or doesn't happen after the fact.* But you can be one without the other, and you have to be a writer first, because after all, who's going to pay for a blank page?

I was eight years old when I won a ribbon in our third grade Young Authors contest because my teacher, Mrs Super, entered a piece of my writing without my knowledge. I have yet to use my winning essay, My Mom and Me, to respond to the above question, but something I was clear on before any attention was brought to my work was that I loved to write and I would do it even if I didn't win anything. My creative impulse was strong.

People write for all kinds of reasons — personal and professional. Some keep private journals for years. I've written tons of things that nobody else has ever seen just because I'm curious to see what my inside looks like on the outside. I've also sat in small writing groups where we'd write for 10 minutes and, if inclined, share with the group. Not everybody did.

People who engage in the yearly NaNoWriMo challenge (National Novel Writing Month) commit to writing a 50,000-word rough draft in 30 days. Most won't be published. Would anyone not call them writers?

It’s easy to get discouraged in any creative endeavor when a high bar is set before you even get started. Sharing what you write (or create) is another thing, which I believe is rooted in our desire for connection and totally natural. Ultimately, though, your writing does not have to be popular, published, or profitable to be real or authenticate you as a writer.

I am a writer, no matter what They say. I have had very little published by others because I haven't sought out to, but that doesn't keep me from doing it. What I create is for me, first. I hope it is for you, too. And if you want to become a published writer, go for it!

* Requests from editors have come in over the years asking permission to publish something I wrote after the fact. Good ol' Mrs Super must be at it again!

I SAY Exercise

If what They say about your writing (art, music, medium of choice) is interfering with your creative joy, give this affirming I SAY exercise a try.

I Say ExerciseDraw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper. Label one column they say and the other I SAY (notice the all-caps). Or download and print my I SAY exercise page.

In the first column, write down everything you’ve heard or read (comments, opinions, cliches) that discourage or diminish you from pursuing your art, writing, performance, etc. to the degree you desire.

Next, write your response in the I say column to each one to reaffirm your resolve to honor your right to explore and express your creative voice in the way that suits you. For example:

they say: You are only a writer if you get paid for your work.

I SAY: My process is writing first. If what I write becomes salable, so be it.

they say: You write terribly. Get an editor!

I SAY: Hey, I'm practicing here. I'm not perfect, and neither are you. Besides, you must have found it interesting enough to write to me about it. Are you offering your editing services?

they say: You're a writer? Where have you been published?

I SAY: I'm an award-winning author. My third-grade essay, My Mom and Me won a ribbon and was published between a blue and white striped card stock cover, made out of wallpaper.

When you're finished, hang the list where you'll see it often — on the refrigerator, bathroom mirror, in your car or a bulletin board.

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